Moon and Space


Moon and Space
Galerie Beyeler Basel

design by Victor Vasarely(?)
printed in Switzerland


How often do you think of a book as “inviting”? What does that word even mean in the context of printed matter? To me, it is one of the most fundamental characteristics of the medium. How might a book ask you to explore it; to navigate its text, imagery, materiality, and overall visual strategy? It’s a fallacy to believe a designer’s role is to make a book which simply looks good. That often results in an object that is comprised of a series of disparate pages which function more like independent posters than interrelated spreads. The alternative is a book which is so timid in its execution it is an utter banality to navigate. Instead, it is the mark of a designer’s generosity to create a text which fuses the beauty of the single page with one that is a joy to hold, to open, to manipulate, and explore. The next time you flip through a book, ask yourself if you feel punished for turning the page or rewarded.

Moon and Space is a perfect example of that sense of reward the reader receives not only for continuing through the book, but for returning back to it again and again. Published in 1969 by Galerie Beyeler (which has ceased to exist and was replaced with the remarkable institution, the Foundation Beyeler), Moon and Space is among a family of exhibition catalogs from that era which are all magnificently designed. I’ve shared one such catalog before—Europa/America—and I hope at some point to post more in the future. But the Moon and Space was my first introduction to this publisher and therefor holds a special place in my heart. The designer is unattributed, however, I believe it is the work of op artist Victor Vasarely who was trained as a book designer and represented by Galerie Beyeler. It bears many signature marks of Vasarely’s designs from the large and playful typsetting of Univers, to the dancing text blocks and images across the page, and finally the liberal interchange of substrates throughout.

The exhibition itself, as one might surmise, was predicated on artists’ interrogation of the celestial and surreal. Such a theme is music to any designer’s ears and Vasarely surely did justice to such a poetic and open-ended concept. The cover, bizarrely, is actually an acetate wrap which has Joan Miró’s “dream painting” simply titled “Painting” (1927) printed on top. The rich blue hue is further complemented by the transparency and dimensionality of the acetate as its distance from the paper cover underneath varies and alters its intensity. Below the jacket and printed on the cover is a second painting, this time by Paul Klee, along with the title of the catalog in reverse contrast type. What I find so striking about this cover is the intentional distortion of the Miró and Klee.


We’re conditioned to expect artwork to be presented objectively and in a pristine state. Yet here, not only is Miro’s painting die-cut to show Klee’s moon through his dark blue sky, but the wrapper’s translucency gives way to an entirely alternative reading… a kind of third, new painting emerges from the blending of the two. I find it hard to believe that any popular publisher today would sanction such a manipulation of an artwork, and yet in this instance it succeeds in creating a disorienting and surreal bridge to the dream-like content within.

On the title page we’re greeted with a luminescent metallic silver which shimmers against the blue title set in perspective, as well as publisher and exhibition date information. It’s also worth noting that the decision to forgo capitalization throughout the book gives a lovely childlike impression to the experience. On the first page, as well as subsequent pages sporadically throughout the book, we’re presented with excerpts from literature or popular culture which have to do in one way or another with space, the fantastical, or our romance with the unknown. Editor Dr. Reinhold Hohl is responsible for the collection and I commend him for the absence of art-historical references in the text. It completely recontextualizes the experience of the artwork into a broader dimension of human existence. Texts are presented in their original language and range from a writing by Schopenhauer to an excerpt from Alice in Wonderland to NASA transcripts from the Apollo moon missions. The result is, again, a dream-like fugue through text and image, all orbiting this amorphous topic of what lies beyond our perception.

Much like how the text itself shifts author, perspective, and time, the imagery also contracts and expands as it irreverently dances across the pages. The tipped-in color plates add to the liveliness of the spreads as each image flutters about when the pages are turned. And a few gatefold pages add to the mystery and playfulness of this ever-evolving object. Two colors: the rich spot cyan of the type along with the metallic silver pages interweave throughout to create a wonderful play with one another and the artwork.

I don’t mean this to sound pejorative when I say there is an unmistakable silliness to the book’s design. It defies a kind of logical cohesion which one might attribute to Swiss work of the time. The consequence of which is an experience that feels whimsical and childish in a way that is so completely befitting of the subject matter. Flipping through this book, reading the texts, and looking at the abstract works, I’m left with a contented sensation similar to that which you get when you stare into the sky at night and feel the unmistakable tinge of appreciation to know just how little we understand about ourselves and our world.



Ellsworth Kelly — Yellow Curve


Ellsworth Kelly: Yellow Curve
Edition Cantz
64 pp.

design by Karin Girlatschek
printed in Germany

Yellow Curve is easily one of the most beautiful and curious books in my collection, containing indeed one of my all-time favorite spreads from any book (pg. 30-31 featuring Kelly’s Orange and Black Ripe). It stands at 12.5” tall and although it couldn’t be considered a large book, contrasted against its slenderness—a consequence of it being only 64 pages long—it feels monumental. By virtue of its sparse layouts and thoughtful pacing, the reproductions of Kelly’s work reach magnificent heights, capturing a kind of grandeur one feels when physically in front of the originals. The grid and type layout takes its cues from European modernism with clear Crouwelian references. Justified type sit along the margins while the interior column/gutter is reserved for images of Kelly’s work, creating a beautiful juxtaposition of organic, colorful forms against the rigidity of the text block. The typography itself is a confusing blend of Univers Extra Black and Optima Regular, with a result that feels wholly unique and ill-suited for the content. 

Despite having some of the most thoughtfully arranged spreads I’ve seen, featuring the canvases and sculptures elegantly stretching across the plain white field of the paper, a few of the installation shots are some of the most unprofessional photography I’ve ever seen printed by a publisher of this caliber. Photos appear grainy and lacking any color and light balance. The overall impression of the book is nothing short of bewilderment. I’m puzzled how the same designer, in the same book, has managed to so elegantly arrange type and image in some spreads and utterly butcher them in others. But often the type of creative work which I enjoy the most is the unfamiliar, and that which I don't fully understand. This book fits perfectly within that category. I don’t understand the logic behind it, yet I treasure the artifact as a curious and endearing publication that has managed to engender simultaneous delight and puzzlement.


Pieśń Wawelu


Pieśń Wawelu
National Publishing Agency of the Workers' Publishing Cooperative Prasa-Książka-Ruch, Kraków
180 pp.

design by Sławomir Lewczuk
printed in Poland

I’m skeptical that I can adequately write anything about this book. For one, I understand very little about what it is documenting. I believe it highlights a famous Polish riverside performance featuring an amalgam of pyrotechnics, theatrical puppetry, and music conducted by the Polish United Workers’ Party over multiple years in the 70s. Secondly, much like the occasion itself, the design of the book is wholly irregular in a fantastical, surreal, and psychedelic way which I doubt I can justly describe. And lastly, I’m also a bit drunk.

The book is a beautiful photographic essay unlike anything I’ve seen before. Everything from the use of the ungainly extended Akzidenz Grotesk to the pure CYMK coloration feels radically unique and without pretension. The low-quality, offset printing of the time has created a wonderfully bizarre rendering of Adam Bujak’s photographs while the bold floods of cyan, magenta, and yellow abruptly break the rhythm of the images. 

Even many of Bujak’s black and white photographs are printed in monochrome shades of alternating colors, furthering the surrealistic effect. The book also comes with a record featuring music from the event. It is packaged unceremoniously in an off-kilter red sleeve that vibrates against the somewhat garish combination of the spread’s magenta and yellow pages.

The book was originally derided as a cheap fever dream, showcasing a famed event through a kind of slipshod cacophony of various technical and budgetary limitations, or otherwise inexplicable choices. But the result today is an absolutely beautiful contemplation on the radical design of that era. It transcends its original constraints to create an otherworldly portrait of a bygone event. This is easily one of my most prized books in my collection, not for its value but its exceptional design. Rarely do I come across a work that feels as uninhibited as this.


L'art Vivant Aux Etats-Unis


L'art Vivant Aux Etats-Unis
Foundation Maeght
164 pp.

design by  Hannes M. Anrig and Jacques Jouffroy
printed in Switzerland

I love a strong front and back cover relationship. This book uses Gill Kayo (the chosen font for the foundation throughout the period) to great effect here. Sitting on a kind of reverse-shadow of itself, the title is reflected on the back with an inverse relationship of the vibrant red and blue as on the front, creating an optical effect that is nothing short of arresting (and somewhat at odds with the formatting inside). Within, the tone is immediately quieted with a comparatively austere and airy preface typeset in Univers which is handsomely used throughout the rest of this exhibition catalog.

The design of the book, with the exception of the boisterous cover, is relatively reserved and straight-forward. What attracts me to it is its beautiful printing, pacing, and generous use of negative space. In fact, at times I see myself reading the negative space of certain spreads before the content themselves, due to the text and image seemingly retreating to the margins in an effort to avoid recognition, or at the very least create as much space as possible in this tiny catalog. Furthering the curious and quaint nature of this text, due to a publisher error, every copy is missing their 13th and 14th pages.


Donald Judd — Fifteen Works


Donald Judd — Fifteen Works
Lone Star Foundation
Heiner Friedrich, Inc., New York. 
46 pp.

printed in New York

I consider this to be a very rare example of a perfect book. It's managed to achieve such a status by virtue of its satisfying feeling of completeness and congruence. Completeness in that the content of the book documents and presents the subject in a refreshingly total and holistic way. Congruence because the design of the book perfectly embodies the spirit of Donald Judd’s aesthetic and ideology without veering into pastiche. No decision feels out of place, overthought or heavy-handed. 

I found this book at Printed Matter's NY Art Book Fair a few years back. The Dia Art Foundation, as usual, had a particularly sparse display of catalogs on their table. But this one didn't look familiar. I hadn’t recognized it from years past, nor had I seen it on their site before. It turns out that someone at the foundation had unintentionally discovered a large box full of these old exhibition catalogs from the work's debut at the Heiner Friedrich gallery. And as luck would have it, Dia is now the owner of this series of fifteen plywood sculptures that are shown in this book. So the foundation promptly acquired and began to sell the books—a wholly unique and now somewhat mysterious record of one of Dia’s most prized series of works.

I struggle to think of ways I would improve on its design. Much like Judd’s work that is featured within, it lacks all ornament and flourish. The skeletal remains feel refreshingly pragmatic and devoid of any pretension.

The printing was unkind to Univers with ink spilling out and across the letterforms, neutralizing the more subtle qualities of the typeface, but in turn creating a kind of utilitarian and rough-hewn quality. In a way it reminded me of the plywood boxes themselves. The structure of the book is exceptionally simple. Each of the fifteen works are presented in an identical fashion: a spread is dedicated to an initial isometric sketch by Judd. This is followed by a second spread of technical drawings illustrating the central perspective of the piece as well as the plan and section view, with all accompanying material and dimension information. The final spread is reserved for a single photograph showing the end product: the wooden sculpture sitting unceremoniously in the quiet space of the gallery. The viewer is quickly ushered through the entire series from inception to execution, without any explanatory text. Paging through the book is a methodical and meditative experience. The relationships to Judd’s work are obvious. Like his sculptures, the structure of the book is laid bare. Additionally, ample space is provided to the drawings and photographs, asking the viewer to consider both the positive and negative image, exactly like how his sculptures invite you to simultaneously confront the foreground and background, interior and exterior.

A lesser designer could have suffocated this humble catalog with gimmicks and effects, overpowering the stillness of its contents. But instead, the anonymous designer has managed to channel Judd to create a catalog that telegraphs the tranquil and unadorned nature of the sculptures themselves.